Friday, June 29, 2012

Cardinal Dulles Is Right

In my last post, I discussed why progressivist notions that imagine that somehow "we know better now" (on questions like religious liberty and slavery) are wrong, and why the Church is not ever going to unequivocally repudiate her own past in the progressive/revolutionary manner some seem to desire. That thread on Vox Nova continues, and I've added some more thoughts on what interpretation of development is correct if the progressivist narrative is not:

This question won’t be resolved, ever, by a recognition that “we were wrong in the past” exactly because there are many still who will defend the thought of the past. And so the Church will go on tolerating both opinions as prudential questions.

The Church can, perhaps, reconcile itself to something like religious liberty today. But people are very misguided if they think the Church is ever going to anathemize the past (or already has), or suddenly call people heretics who are merely holding what it was allowed, and even almost obligatory, to support in the past (Think, for example, if an SSPX reconciliation were to take place, etc.)

The best the Church can say, then, is something along the lines of “Neither is dogma, this turned out to be a prudential question of casuistic contingency, Catholics are free to judge either approach better (even if the institutional Church is, currently, using the more modern approach.)”

One can question the prudence, or the casuistic application of principles. But it will never recant such things on principle, because that would require making “new heresies” of things that never were before, and would require making heretics of many Catholics who do defend the old ways (or who at least, like me, argue that they are equally as tolerable as the current approach.) We might say, then: the Church can "baptize" values of the liberal democratic (pluralist, secular, laicist, etc) order...but it will never "canonize" them.

For example, Avery Cardinal Dulles treated this sort of question skillfully in 2005 in this article before his death. I would consider myself, generally speaking, an adherent to the “Dulles interpretation” of these changes (which we might, indeed, call a "hermeneutic of continuity.")

What I see in that Vox Nova thread, however, are progressivists licking their lips hoping that the magisterium will somehow deliver a final definitive blow anathemizing the past, beyond just recognizing a sort of “adaptation of the same principles to new social/political/economic circumstances” (like usury, say; I’d identify the principle as “credit is social rather than private” rather than a condemnation of all “interest” in se, though in pre-modern economies the latter surely transgressed the principle) or recognizing a distinction of things that are unideal/undesirable but not intrinsically evil in all hypothetical circumstances (like slavery, say; I don’t think it’s possible to come up with an internally consistent definition of "slavery" that would make it absolutely evil, covering all historical instances while at the same time being different in nature, and not merely degree, from any other system of labor we can imagine this side of the eschaton.)

However, I’m confident the Church won’t actually do that. They are not going to ever declare Cardinal Dulles’s interpretation of the matter to be heretical and dogmatize the “we simply were wrong then and know better now” progressive interpretation. While the new values may be baptized, they will never go so far as to canonize them. If there is one lesson we have learned, it is that dogmatizing socio-political values of the current world order is actually a terrible idea; if we appeared to do that for something like feudalism or monarchy, we should not make the same mistake with liberal democracy. His Kingdom is not of this world.

In fact, I suspect, beyond just being tolerated, the official hermeneutic will continue to be (and in fact will move closer towards) something like the “Dulles interpretation”…not a progressivist “we know better now.”

1 comment:

rjohnlennon said...

"What I see in that Vox Nova thread, however, are progressivists licking their lips hoping that the magisterium will somehow deliver a final definitive blow anathemizing the past,"

Thank you. When Ms. Smucker posted about Michael Sattler a few weeks ago, that was the attitude I found so grating, this self-satisfaction with our own position to even CLAIM that we know better than our forefathers. I *cannot* look at St. Sir Thomas More, who *did* have men executed for persisting in heresy, and say that I'm a better Christian than he is!